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by Mark Holmes and Ian Albert (Directors)
Pranamaya, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 12th 2006

Insight Yoga with Sarah Powers

Insight Yoga is a very well produced DVD package with about four hours of yoga practice.  It has two vinyasa practices, one a 40 minutes sun salutation, the other a 55 minutes flow.  It has a 10 minute savasana practice to do at the end of the other practices and also a 30 minute meditation practice.  But the most distinctive parts of the DVD are the two yin practices, which are labeled for kidneys and the liver, although one can benefit from them without necessarily accepting the medical assumptions behind them. 

Sarah Powers guides a class of about seven people.  The space is full of character and feels pleasant: bare red brick walls, a wooden floor, a few decorations around the room, and color coordinated yoga mats.  She has a calm reassuring vocal style, and she speaks with knowledge and confidence.  She explains the poses and often demonstrates them, but also walks around the room in some practices helping the other people with their poses.  The camera work is steady, and the editing is unobtrusive.  It looks like the DVD was shot with two or three cameras, showing Powers, individual students, and occasionally the whole class from above.  The sound quality is good, and it is easy to follow the directions and see how the students in the class take the postures, with a range of variation to suit their abilities and needs.  Unusually for a yoga DVD, there is no background music.

For the two vinyasas, the pace is moderate.  Powers gives plenty of instruction about when to inhale and exhale, and she emphasizes the importance of taking a break and returning to child's pose when your breath goes out of alignment.  Her sun salutations are fairly standards, but she does a good deal of work with locust poses, in which you lie on your mat face down, and raise both your upper and lower body at the same time, moving your legs in and out.  She also is fond of danurasana or bow poses, and returns to them often.  The flow practice is surprisingly calming, and is certainly not rushed.  This makes it appropriate for people who are quite new to yoga.  Yet at the same time, the practice is also quite challenging at places, especially in its reverse triangle pose after a series of other leg stretches.

The yin practices involve holding postures for five minutes, aiming to stretch deep connective tissue.  The kidney practice involves different backbends and some counterposes.  The students in the class make these postures look easy, and they again have their own variations to accommodate their different bodies.  But they do stay fairly still, and this shows how these postures are quite meditative.  As someone who finds meditation very difficult, I was not surprised to find these yin postures difficult too.  I found myself shifting around, trying to get comfortable, finding exactly the right bodily position, and soon getting uncomfortable again, so I tended to move around far more than the people on the DVD.  I also found that holding these postures for several minutes brought up emotions far more than any other yoga I have done.  Presumably with repeated following of the practice, it becomes easier to tolerate the experiences these postures create, both mentally and physically.  The liver section aims at stretching the lower back and area around the hips; there is a limited number of positions that achieve this, so Powers guides the class through most of them.  They involve some twists and other stretches to open the hips.

In the kidney section, Powers explains a theory behind the yin practice in terms of qi energy, the kidney meridian line, and the connection between our physical and emotional lives.  She gives similar forms of explanations for the liver practice.  Most people who do yoga will be ready to accept the connection between the physical and the emotional, but they may not be so sympathetic with the details of the alternative medicine that Powers assumes and explains.  In both the kidney and liver sections, she ends with stories about people as ways to illustrate the benefits of yin practice.  It is possible to select minimal audio for these sections, so you only hear the parts where she gives instructions about when to move and what posture to take. 

Insight Yoga is one of the best yoga DVDs I have viewed.  Its style is very different from the excellent Shiva Rea DVDs, which provide more of a workout, and are more visually attractive.  This DVD is more meditative and provides more of a whole mind/body experience.  It is easy to use, and even includes a selection of ten possible sequences to follow, although it is quite easy to use the DVD menu controls to create your own sequence as you go.  Highly recommended.

 

© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.